a bedroom half painted with all different paint supplies in the middle of the floor

Whether you’re applying a fresh coat of paint to your house after hurricane season or you’re renovating your new home office, it’s essential that you choose the right paint for the job.

You should avoid paints with high levels of volatile organic compounds, especially if you are tackling the interior of your home.

This post will explain what volatile organic compounds are and how they can impact your health. Next, you’ll find out how to choose the right zero VOC paint and prepare for your painting project.

Finally, you will learn what you can do to reduce VOC levels and speed up off-gassing during and after painting. 

Is Zero-VOC Paint Is Suitable for Florida?

Though true for for all areas of the US, zero-VOC paint is particularly suitable for Florida because it helps minimize air quality pollution while ensuring surfaces are protected from the damaging effects of heat and humidity.

Unfortunately, the harsh weather conditions of the Sunshine State can cause a brand new paint job to fade and crack sooner than expected.

However, despite its appellation, this type of paint is not entirely free of VOCs. Therefore, you should avoid VOCs in the paint you use during renovations and DIY projects.

What Are VOCs?

VOC stands for “volatile organic compounds.” They are carbon-based compounds that occur naturally or are artificially manufactured. They are present in various substances and materials we use daily, like detergents, solvents, and paints.

VOCs are generally considered to be harmful in high exposure. They are typically found in higher concentrations indoors than outdoors and are even more prevalent during high emission or off-gassing activities like paint stripping.

Ian Cull of the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) discusses the challenges of defining these compounds in more detail in this video.

How Are VOCs Harmful?

VOCs can have a severe negative impact on your health, depending on the duration of your exposure and the concentration levels present within an environment. 

Just as people with pre-existing conditions are generally at a higher risk of more severe infection with the COVID virus, they are also at a higher risk of being harmed by VOCs. 

Heightened risk is particularly true in cases of long-term repeated exposure, which can lead to:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system
  • Allergic skin reaction

It is also suspected that some of these compounds are carcinogenic in humans and other animals. One such compound is benzene, which is found in fuel, environmental smoke, car emissions, and paint. 

What Are the Regulations Concerning VOCs in Florida?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of VOCs in substances sold in the United States. 

According to The FIX IT Home Improvement Channel, the EPA is concerned that VOCs are released in the air when a substance like paint dries, worsening the conditions that lead to global warming. These greenhouse gasses react with sunlight and create a polluting smog that can lead to the health concerns listed above. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection monitors the regulations concerning VOCs in Florida. These regulations are in place to protect people from high exposure to VOCs and stipulate that zero and low-VOC paints shall contain “5% or less VOCs by volume.” 

Additionally, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “the total quantity of coatings containing greater than 5.% VOC, by volume shall not exceed 6.0 gallons (27.27 L) per day, where the quantity of coatings used includes all solvents and thinners used in the process or for cleanup.”

In other words, the total amount of VOC refers to the paint and any primer, tint, or additional solvents or coatings that you require to complete your painting project.

Overhead shot looking down at some zero-VOC paint in a tray and bucket

The Paints and Coatings Resource Center has even developed an Emissions Calculator to help you determine the amount of VOCs you are permitted to release per EPA regulations.

IAQA offers a one-hour course on volatile organic compounds through the IAQA University. As a member, you can gain access to courses that have been approved by the State of Florida for “indoor air quality (IAQ) professionals seeking to advance their skills.” 

A more straightforward way is to look out for certification and labels like the Green Seal, which restricts the levels of VOCs by content and emissions. Where most paint manufacturers focus on the VOC content of their formula, a Green Seal certification requires an emission evaluation to address off-gassing. 

While paint may contain little to no VOCs, it may still produce harmful emissions when it dries. 

What Constitutes Zero-VOC Paint?

Zero-VOC paint is defined as a product containing volatile organic compound levels equal to or below 5gm per liter of paint. Even if the paint does not contain harmful VOCs, it may still emit particles into the atmosphere as the water base evaporates. 

The scale set out by the EPA ranges as follows:

Quantity of VOC per literCategorization
<5 g/L (0.04 lbs/gal)Very Low
5–49 g/L (0.04-0.40 lbs/gal)Low
50–99 g/L (0.41-0.82 lbs/gal)Moderate
100–249 g/L (0.83-2.07 lbs/gal)High
>250 g/L (2.08 lbs/gal)Very High

Zero Or Low-VOC Paint?

The FIX IT Home Improvement Channel provides an illuminating discussion on low-VOC paint on its podcast.

One crucial tip is to avoid darker tints when coloring paint, as these contain higher VOC levels than lighter tints.

Paint may also have an odor, despite the zero-VOC label. This short video by The Paint People explains why zero-VOC paints still have a smell and why you don’t need specific weather to paint.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Zero VOC Paint?

The pros of zero-VOC paint include performance excellence and good coverage, and the cons include a lack of antimicrobial resistance. 

In this video, Ian West of ECOS Paints goes above and beyond to prove the non-toxicity of the zero-VOC paint he invented:

Ian West of ECOS Paints explaining how zero-VOC paint works in his shop
Courtesy of ECOS Paints

While we do not recommend you follow suit, there are other pros to using zero-VOC paint. 

The Pros Of Zero-VOC Paint

One of the primary advantages of zero-VOC paint is a lower exposure to the volatile compounds that cause health problems in humans and greenhouse gasses that harm the ozone layer of our planet.

In addition to improved air quality during and after application, zero-VOC paint has the following characteristics:

  • Improved performance – you can wait longer before the next paint job.
  • Excellent edge retention – this reduces the chances of rust appearing at the edges of your paint job.
  • Great coverage – you don’t need many coats to hide patchy areas below the paint.
  • Non-flammable – it is water-based and thus ensures safer storage conditions when not in use.

The Cons Of Zero VOC Paint

Nothing is perfect, and zero-VOC paint is no exception. To ensure its non-toxicity and low-VOC content, some properties of regular paint cannot be replicated.

If your walls get dirty or scuffed, avoid cleaning them with ammonia-based detergents. A mild mixture of water and soap is sufficient to remove most stains. Wait at least 30 days after the initial application before washing the surface.  

Another downside of zero-VOC paint is that most available brands do not contain fungicides and other antimicrobial chemicals. Such compounds would increase the levels of VOCs in the paint and nullify its zero or low-VOC categorization. 

Avoid cross-contamination of tools by pouring out the paint you need in a separate container. Store any unused paint safely in a cool, dry place.

Although the quality of zero-VOC paint coverage is improving, you may still require at least two coats of paint to achieve your desired results. 

Painting Your Home With Zero-VOC Paint

You could go the same route as Michaelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel and make your own zero-VOC milk paint, as explained in this video by GEO sustainable.

The alternative is to choose a zero-VOC paint that can withstand the harsh Floridian weather conditions and is resistant to:

  • Water 
  • Mildew 
  • Heat 
  • Fade 
  • Dirt 

The Florida Green Building Coalition has published helpful Retrofit Guidelines to help you choose the appropriate materials for your renovation and painting projects. This reference guide advises you on using “low-VOC paints, stains, and finishes on all interior walls, ceilings, and trim.”

No matter the type of zero-VOC paint you choose, be sure to first clean and prime your surfaces. You may not be painting a masterpiece that will last centuries, but you want a quality paint job you can be proud of.

We recommend trying the Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer because it has moderately low volatile organic compound content at less than 100 g/l (0.83 lbs/gal) and dries in an hour.

This primer is for interior and exterior walls and surfaces and is resistant to mildew and mold. You can use it in a range of temperatures, and you only need to apply one coat to a properly cleaned surface.

The Importance of Priming

It is essential that you prime your surfaces before painting in order to:

  • Prevent flaking of the topcoat zero-VOC paint.
  • Improve adhesion of the topcoat to rugged or rough surfaces.
  • Cover and seal superficial damage like mold and smells without repairs.
  • Ensure an even and smooth topcoat.
  • Strengthen protective properties of topcoat paint.

Maintaining Surfaces Coated with Zero-VOC Paint

While zero-VOC paints and primers are safer around children and pets, the reverse may not always be accurate. 

Maintaining surfaces that are newly coated with zero-VOC paint can be a simple affair if you follow these easy steps:

Read all the manufacturer’s instructions and tips printed on the paint can. Then, access any website listed as they often publish a page of frequently asked questions that include cleaning tips specific to their brand of zero-VOC paint.

You’ll need:

  • A vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment or a soft bristle brush
  • Cheesecloth or another piece of cloth made of loosely woven cotton
  • A soft sponge 
  • A bucket of clean water
  • A mild household cleaner or dishwashing liquid
  • Clean rags or towels
  1. Dust the surface to be cleaned. Use your vacuum cleaner and its brush attachment or a soft bristle brush and a piece of cheesecloth to wipe the dust away.
  2. Dip the sponge in the bucket of water and detergent and wipe the dusted surface in a gentle circular motion. Wring the sponge well and remove any excess water to avoid streaks on your surfaces.
  3. Pat the cleaned surface dry with a clean rag or towel. Use dry cloths and replace them as you clean.
  4. For tough marks and stains, you can mix a paste of baking soda and water. First, test this mixture on an inconspicuous area to make sure it does not damage your surfaces

Watch this video for a quick demonstration on zero-VOC by paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams.

Reducing Your Exposure to VOCs During Off-Gassing

As I mentioned earlier, even zero-VOC paint emits particles that contribute to the greenhouse effect. This emission process is known as off-gassing, and it can last anywhere from a few weeks to years after the initial paint application. 

This long-term exposure risk, which is the focus of the VOC regulations issued by the EPA, increases in closed environments. So, take these steps to reduce the risk of inhaling volatile organic compounds during off-gassing:

  • Increase ventilation and air circulation.
  • Read and follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Wear protective equipment like a full-face respirator.
  • Introduce heat to speed up the off-gassing process.
  • Make use of a dehumidifier while the paint dries.

Conclusion

As categorized by the EPA, zero-VOC paints are suitable for use in Florida and help reduce the impact of greenhouse gasses on air quality both inside and outside your home.

Take the necessary precautions to reduce your exposure to VOC emissions before, during, and after painting. Doing this will help you avoid the short and long-term negative impacts of VOCs on your health and your family and pets.

Sources

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